It's never too early to learn how to be a better boss. As you advance in your career, you may find yourself managing subordinates sooner than you'd expect. And no matter your management style, there are certain best practices that will help you succeed better as a leader — and navigate the challenges of being a boss. It's a tough job, after all!
Here are 10 expert pieces of advice to guide you.
1. Remember the eyes on you
Mitt Romney famously said corporations are people. We'll leave the debate about whether that's true to one side. For your purposes, it's good to keep in mind: A business is really just the sum total of its employees and management, and you're at the top. You're representing everything the company does — its lead "brand ambassador."
"How do you represent your company when you attend external events?" leadership expert Vince Molinaro asks. "Do you make your company proud? Do you effectively reflect its core values?" If you can't say "yes" to these questions, it's time to rethink your behavior.
2. Recognize your unconscious biases
A manager is supposed to be able to trust his or her gut. But sometimes your own biases can get in the way of what's best for the company.
"Problems arise ... when we tilt one way or the other, not based on what’s best in the circumstances, but on what we tend to prefer. What we prefer is sometimes the right choice, but often it’s not," leadership experts Linda Hill and Kent Lineback wrote in Harvard Business Review.
To make sure you are trying different possible management strategies to find the best one — not just falling back on habits — ask yourself some key questions. Do you tend to make decisions unilaterally or ask for feedback? Do you tend to give feedback in the form of constructive criticism or compliments?
None of your answers are necessarily "right" or "wrong," but sticking with one way of doing business is not always the best way. Unless you are able to recognize your "default settings," you will be at their mercy. They'll drive the choices you make every day, according to Hill and Lineback — and you won't even understand why.
3. Offer direct reports "office hours"
This doesn't mean you always have to be constantly accessible. For instance, lots of people actually ended up siding with Steve Harvey when his infamous "leave me alone" memo leaked, because they saw his words as those of someone who valued his own time.
But if you're not going to be easily reachable, you should balance this out by not being aloof. Daily or otherwise regular contact "will help you keep your finger on the pulse on your employees, stay connected to their work and identify any personnel problems before they arise," Amanda Augustine, a career expert for TopResume, told CNBC.
If your schedule is complicated, consider offering office hours once every couple of weeks so that your direct reports have a chance to chat and ask questions outside the daily hustle and bustle.
4. Avoid relying on "Band-Aids"
Avery Augustine, a tech company manager, said that for a while, she would take "the easy way out" when an employee had a problem, and simply take on the task herself. Eventually, she realized that this was not good for long-term efficiency: "Instead of identifying the root cause of a performance issue and helping the employee work through it, I put a Band-Aid on it — by taking the assignment he or she was struggling with and doling it out to someone with a better track record for those types of tasks," she wrote for the Muse.
"I wasn’t helping my employees grow; I was just ignoring problems and using quick fixes instead," she said. "But if you’re looking to turn your management performance around, it’s time to face your employees and their issues (good and bad) head-on."
5. Watch out for "bad apples"
These can be employees, equipment, experiences — anything negative. That's because, unfairly or not, bad things stay in people's minds longer than good things. "Studies of everything from romantic relationships to workplace encounters show that negative interactions can pack a much bigger wallop than positive ones," the Wall Street Journal reported. "The reason is simple: 'Bad is stronger than good.'"
Negativity affects performance longer and more profoundly than the positive responses generated by more constructive colleagues, researchers have found. One experiment performed by researchers found that having just one "slacker" or "jerk" in a group can bring down performance by 30% to 40%, the Journal reported.
6. Catch someone doing something right
Even as you're getting rid of bad apples, you want to reward good behavior.
"People don't thrive well in an environment of constant criticism," Kevin Daum — an award-winning and bestselling author, marketer and speaker — wrote for Inc. "The great motivator Tom Hopkins says it best: 'Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it.'"
Set a goal of giving your employees at least one piece of positive feedback for every one piece of criticism, though it's probably best not to force it with the "sandwich" method. Instead, just find natural moments — when you notice a smart decision by one of your reports, call it out immediately, just as you might with a mistake.
7. Demonstrate trust and kindness
You hired your people for a reason: Let them do their thing. "Connecting with employees as human first and a boss second — displaying warmth, compassion and understanding — is far more likely to bring out the best in your team," Neil Petch, the chairman of Virtugroup, wrote for Entrepreneur.
He cited a Harvard Business Review report suggesting that employees work far more efficiently when their boss trusts them, and this trust comes in large part from how messages are communicated. Rather than pushing for harder work by showing your reports a tough exterior, be kind and lead by example.
8. Read a book, then read another one
Warren Buffett, once asked about the key to success, pointed to a stack of nearby books, according to Quartz: "Read 500 pages like this every day," he said. "That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
9. Be an insurgent
That's from Disney's Bob Iger, who once said, "The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo."
There is not a single industry in the world that is not facing some sort of disruption at this point, and if you have to ask if your work is in danger of automation or other long-term threats, it may already be too late. "Insurgents are great at taking risks," Iger said. "You have to behave more like them."
10. Stick with "good" surprises only
Psychological studies have shown that people respond more to fairness and process than outcome, since the latter can be justified by one of the former. Transparency pays off: You don't have to be winning all the time, as long as people can see how the sausage is made.
If tough decisions are being made, let everyone know about them as early as possible; the only surprises employees should be experiencing are good ones. As for other upsides to openness? You'll improve trust and relationships — and inspire your reports to work more effectively.